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Function to control infection: the basis for a new built environment.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

This new reality presents new long-term facilities maintenance challenges. Here’s how real estate and facilities managers can rise to meet them.  

Now the initial adrenaline rush of getting everyone back into the office has died down, and new restrictions hault a full throttle return for a little while longer, the time is ripe for longer-term evaluation. 

How will our office space evolve if we never get ‘back to normal’? What if COVID remains an issue for the long-term? How will our working realities change, now we’re more aware of the threat of a pandemic? 

Right now, real estate and facilities managers are likely snowed under with short- and mid-term COVID-security measures, like installing sanitising stations and establishing one-way flows through shared spaces. 

But let’s look further out, because our working reality has fundamentally changed. With our newfound collective awareness of how disruptive a pandemic can be, businesses seem unlikely to return amnesia-like to how things were. 

At the least, limiting risk means exploring ways to build resilience into our corporate built environments – so businesses are prepared for whatever the future holds. 

Should we be rethinking real estate for good? 

Many people are asking whether the corporate office still has a place in this changed world. The conclusion for most (like 89% of respondents to a recent Savills survey) is, the office is vital but needs to change. 

Controlling the spread of infection

There are urgent concerns around controlling the spread of infection which, right now, probably looks like reorganising space to encourage social distancing. Longer-term many businesses look likely to embed contactless pathways and harness touchless technology. 

Within that, how employees interact with their workplace might change dramatically. For example, will corporate kitchens still have a place or will employees prefer to order food individually packed, for contactless delivery? If businesses embrace flexible working, will traditional in-house catering make sense anymore?   

The way we use materials in the built environment might fundamentally change too. In shared spaces, antimicrobial surfaces – like copper – could help limit transmission risk.

Changing spaces to reflect changing purposes

Even if COVID-19 disappeared tomorrow, there’s an argument to say the way we use corporate spaces has changed forever. 

Although most employees believe the office is important, the majority want to work from home sometimes too (three quarters of UK employees want to split their time between the office and WFH from now on).

Flexible working has increased five-fold in two decades, and global demand for flexible office spaces has grown by 50% over five years. COVID-19 has accelerated that trend, and it seems unlikely the cat will get back in the bag.

The purpose of office space, then, has shifted. There’s a new emphasis on face-to-face collaboration. On creativity and connection. 

Real estate and facilities managers need to consider how offices can support and enhance those aims. For example, perhaps offices will need more open-plan social spaces and meeting rooms, rather than workstations for every employee. 

Even if COVID-19 becomes a distant memory, it will be a powerful one. The impact on employees’ expectations and businesses’ understanding of risk mean our built environments must evolve long-term. Not just firefight short-term. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

The team that Eats together asset image

The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.